When To Use Belly Breathing Versus Breathing With Bandhas

April 7, 2020     bandha | breath | pranayama | technique | Your Questions

Transcript below of: When to use belly breathing versus breathing with bandhas

Hey everybody! Welcome to this month’s question of the month. Of course, you can submit your own question. Just go to yoganatomy.com/myquestion and we’ll try to answer it on video. So this month’s question comes from MC and it’s about belly breathing versus breathing with bandhas. It’s a two-part question.

The Question:

“My question is about the breathing [and comes] from your book, ‘Functional Anatomy of Yoga’ (page 130 to 131), [where it says, in] the second type of breathing, we engage the mula bandha and uddiyana bandha and completely change the common understanding/practice of the belly breathing. [DK: So, MC has doubts about that.] Is it possible to breathe using the second type [of] breathing off the mat, as in our daily life? Personally, I tried it and I find it’s kind of tough to breathe in such a way. Maybe I am doing [it] wrongly or not mastering the skills yet.”

DK: I’m going to answer this first question now. No, you’re not necessarily supposed to take that technique (breathing with bandhas) and apply it 24-7. You just want to use that technique as part of the practices themselves, because they create a particular kind of quality and energy that you utilize in your practice. So, you don’t have to take that off the mat.

The second question

“The second type of breathing completely changes the common working sequence of the diaphragm, where during inhalation the diaphragm contracts and pulls down to create a negative pressure in the lungs and allows the air to enter into the lungs. So, if we adopt the second type of breathing in our lifestyle, would it create any problem for our health physically and mentally? Or this is just a change of habit for the breathing process?

Just sharing, after I tried the belly breathing and second type of breathing, I find both methods are giving me different experience and results. The belly breathing is more relaxing and calming (maybe I’m used to it, for example during final relaxation), but it’s not so helpful during practice and vice versa for the second type of breathing. So is this true?
Thanks and namaste.

The Answer:

So, like I said. I think your experience is the most common experience. Belly breathing creates a different quality and a different energy. And, holding the lower abdomen in and changing the way in which the diaphragm functions (breathing with bandhas) also creates a different energy. Those different qualities will be used for different purposes, particularly in the practices.

So, keep in mind that the whole idea of drawing the lower abdomen in, as in uddiyana bandha and mula bandha, and even adding on something like jalandhara bandha — these are all part of pranayama practice. So they come out of there. They’re not techniques that we need to try to make fit into our daily life. No baby comes out breathing with their lower abdomen in. That’s not the natural way of breathing. It’s just a technique.

And, I think that already answers your question. I think you’re just trying to misapply it (the breathing with bandhas technique). I don’t know where that came from for you. Maybe someone suggested that you should be doing that all day. I wouldn’t suggest that and I agree with you that they create different qualities and energies.

Alright, I hope that answered your question. If you’ve got a question, once again, you can go to yoganatomy.com/myquestion and we’ll answer it on video.

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  1. Hi David, my own issues with breath and bandha has led me to (eventually) teach it in a somewhat more nuanced way than what is generally offered in Ashtanga.
    A few years ago, my teacher at the time strongly emphasised holding the navel in and engaging mula bandha at all times during practice, along with a focus on breathing expansively into the chest. These instructions may well be perfect for some students but for me, over the course of several years, the constant abdominal/pelvic holding led to a habitual reverse and accessory breathing pattern, anxiety, and eventually, panic attacks. It was miserable. I didn’t understand what was wrong. And my breathing was still continually being criticised (my teacher saw the dysfunctional result, but nothing she suggested addressed its cause). I tried harder, which made everything worse. I came very close to quitting my Ashtanga practice.
    It wasn’t until I studied yoga therapy that I learned about the bidirectional link between dysfunctional breath patterns and emotional states. That was a lightbulb moment, for sure, but it still took me about 2 years to unpick the mess and rebuild a natural breathing pattern. From a physiotherapist colleague, I also learned that gripping of the pelvic floor in women is linked to pelvic floor dysfunction and stress incontinence. This is because an excessively contracted pelvic floor loses its physiological ability to respond to changes in intraabdominal pressure.
    In consequence, I have changed my teaching around bandhas and instead encourage students to make them responsive to the breath as well as to the degree of effort required. I advise students to soften their bandhas slightly on the inhale, to the extent that the inbreath is not thereby restricted, and to engage them further on the exhale, done as part of their sitting practice before or after asana. This develops the capacity to relax as well as engage the pelvic floor, diaphragm and transverse abdominis, and is in line with pelvic floor physiotherapy recommendations . I also invite beginning students to develop an awareness of the natural bandhas that arise simply as a result of posture (such as in sitting erect and downward dog) versus the effect of deliberately increased bandhas in active poses such as jumping forward and back, and lifting up onto the hands while sitting.
    May they avoid my adverse experiences.

    1. Hi Caroline,

      I generally agree with you that bandhas and methodology of breathing is often oversimplified from the beginning.

      I think you’re also speaking to a number of larger problems.

      How do we assess individuals? Meet them where they are at? Track their progress and modify techniques as students practice and understanding evolve?

      In general, bandhas are often westernized, concrete, muscular only, etc… Tight pelvic floor and abdominals = strong core. Definitely an oversimplification and lacking nuance and subtlety even just on a muscular level. I’ve written about this a few times already.

      I’m sorry to hear that your breathing ended up creating such problems for you. Happy you’ve sorted it out and can now pass on what you’ve learned to others!